- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

About 4 percent of the nation’s teens say they have had sex in exchange for money or drugs, according to a study.

Extrapolated to the national youth population, this figure suggests that nearly 650,000 U.S. teens have engaged in this kind of behavior, possibly because they needed food, clothing, shelter or drugs.

But although some teens “may have engaged in sex exchange as a matter of survival on the streets, it is possible that many have engaged in this behavior for other reasons,” said lead researcher Jessica M. Edwards, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The study, published in the June issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections, is thought to be the first to look at sex-for-payment activities among the general teen population.

Sex exchange has been studied in adult substance abusers and subpopulations of homeless and runaway youths, Ms. Edwards said yesterday. But this is the first published study to examine the behavior within a general population of youth.

Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, as well as to substance abuse and victimization are a few of the potential complications for teens.

Studies have estimated that people ages 15 to 24 account for 48 percent of new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the United States each year. In addition, people ages 13 to 24 are estimated to contract half of the 20,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS each year.

The PIRE study is based on data from 13,294 teens in the seventh through 12th grades in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

The PIRE study said 471 of the teens, or 3.5 percent, had sex in exchange for drugs or money. The average age of these teens was 16, and roughly two-thirds were male.

Teens who seemed especially at risk in sex exchanges were those who used drugs, had run away from home, were depressed or engaged in sexually risky behavior.

In addition, among the sex-exchange teens, 20 percent of the girls and 15 percent of the boys said they had been told by a medical professional that they had contracted a sexually transmitted infection.

Researchers said they weren’t certain how many of the reported sex exchanges could be considered prostitution because the median number of times that youths in the study had sex for payment was one.

However, “there’s a lot more we need to learn about” this issue, Ms. Edwards said. For instance, she said, “we don’t know” the ages or sex of the exchange partners and when, where and why the exchanges occurred.

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